Book One in The Kate Lawrence Mysteries: When prominent Hartford attorney Alain Girouard is found murdered, and his secretary becomes the leading suspect, Kate Lawrence and her support staff colleagues band together to exonerate one of their own. Possibilities include the many women Girouard discarded over the years, a horticulturist with an interest in deadly flora, the victim’s wife, who has a surprising lover of her own, and a local clairvoyant. Each clue puts Kate closer to the truth but further into danger when the murderer decides to put a stop to her meddling.
Have you ever wondered what your secretary really thinks of you? I’ll tell you what she thinks of you. If you would just get out of her way, she could run the office far better without you. And that’s on a good day.
On a bad day, her thoughts about you are probably homicidal, and that’s when being a legal secretary could work to her advantage. If you work for lawyers long enough, my new friends tell me, you can easily learn how to commit murder. Even better, you can learn how to get away with it. At least, that’s what everyone thought happened last summer at Bellanfonte, Girouard & Bolasevich, three names so unpronounceable that the Hartford law firm is known throughout New England simply as “BGB.”
Had I been less preoccupied with my own impending death on that steamy Thursday in June, I could have killed Donatello Bellanfonte. Following him reluctantly into the elevator, I tried unsuccessfully to distract my thoughts from the thirty-six stories of empty shaft Donatello had reminded me were beneath our feet.
“Actually, it’s a thirty-seven-story drop, counting the cathedral ceiling in the lobby,” he amended as the doors slid shut in front of us, “but anything over six stories, and we’re dead anyway.” He whistled cheerfully as the express car plummeted toward the street level, and I clung to the side rail, ears popping in the changing air pressure.
I reflected sourly that if I had suffered from a dread of arachnids instead of heights, Bellanfonte would have produced a rubber tarantula from his suit pocket and dropped it down the neck of my dress; but since I had made the mistake of making my new boss, an estate law guru, aware of my lifelong fear of heights, he made elevator jokes. Irrational fears were not to be tolerated in an adult human being, he maintained in true U.S. Army, Ret., fashion. It was simply a matter of confronting one’s demons, and he had made desensitizing me his personal mission. So far, it wasn’t working.
As cloying as the heat and humidity of a Hartford summer were, I welcomed them as evidence of my survival as, wobbly kneed, I preceded Bellanfonte through the revolving door that spun us into the lunch-hour crowd on Trumbull Street. He lifted a hand briefly in farewell and charged off to his meeting with the editor of the New England Law Tribune, where they would review the periodical’s editorial calendar for the coming year and identify the topics Donatello would cover for them as one of their regular columnists. During the more than twenty years he had practiced estate law, he had written dozens of articles for legal and trade magazines. He had also untangled the snarl of tax regulations for some of the biggest names in the country. Whenever he got the chance, he indulged his appetites for golf and racquetball the way he did everything else, aggressively and to excess.
Despite the city’s blast furnace ambience, city workers strode purposefully in all directions as Bellanfonte disappeared down Church Street into the crowd. Although we had left the office just moments ago, he consulted his cell phone for effect, hoping for a message to prove how indispensable he was to his clients.
Relishing the free hour ahead of me, I considered my lunch options. A little fish at No Fish Today? Salad at Au Bon Pain? But instead of growling happily in anticipation, my stomach roiled. It was barely noon, and my stress level was already over the top. I waited impatiently for a walk light and sympathized with the professional dog walker who was attempting to keep four leashed animals under control and untangled. Maybe just a glass of iced tea, then. No gastric protests followed this thought, so I headed down the block to where the food wagons habitually lined up, collected my tea, and took it with me into Bushnell Park, where I sagged onto a bench.
A couple of thirtyish eager beavers in pinstriped suits and rolled-up shirtsleeves passed by, earnestly trashing Hartford’s only daily newspaper, the Courant. One of them waved a copy for emphasis as he attempted to impress his colleague with a badly thought-out diatribe on unnecessary sensationalism and the general incompetence of the paper’s publishers. That subject exhausted, he sniffed the air suspiciously and sneered, “Somebody’s smoking.”
I immediately wished for a cigarette. Ah, the good old days.